One of the most valuable aspects of my college education was becoming involved in the diverse communities around me. My participation in these communities enabled me to learn through interacting with other people, acquiring important skill sets for life and becoming more self-aware about who I am and my goals for the future. In the following sections, I will share my journey in exploring the different roles I had when I took part in communities, which helped me to grow both personally and professionally.
My first experience in being part of a community was finding a group of people who were like me. When I first came to college, I instantly connected with the Chinese international students. I went to a small high school that was much less racially diverse than the UW, with only a few Chinese students. The feeling of finally finding my own group of peers at college was wonderful and exciting. It was the familiarity of language and culture, especially in a new environment that enabled us to know and learn about each other so naturally. The students and I had so many similarities: we spoke the same first language, we knew the same culture, we were raised with the same values, and we shared the same understanding on many levels. Going through college, I found belonging and support in this close-knit group of Chinese friends, which I needed and had missed after immigrating to the United Stated at twelve years old. However, my social circle felt too comfortable, and I was not meeting people coming from different cultures, experiences and backgrounds. At the time, I must have subconsciously considered being Chinese as my only identity, although it did not describe me fully as a person. I wanted to fully experience the diverse environment that UW provides by expanding my network and finding other communities that resonated with me.
My understanding about a community grew as I took a more active role at UW. I spent my sophomore year as a resident advisor (RA), where I was able to learn about residents that shared the same living space as me. I was so impressed by my neighbors as I discovered their various personalities, hobbies, interests, aspirations, and perspectives shaped by their unique experiences and backgrounds. As a community leader, I intended to help my residents to find others with similar interests, facilitate relationship building between them, and create a welcoming and safe environment for everyone to get to know each other better. Through hosting floor programs and initiating daily interactions in the hallways, I saw many residents engage in meaningful conversations and begin to build long-term friendships. I found that although we were different in many ways, we were able to embrace the differences and connect the experiences we shared. For example, we shared an appreciation for our beautiful campus, the struggle in registering for our classes, and questions about what we might want to do in the future. It was wonderfully surprising to see how this diverse community grew and brought everyone closer together, which to me is why my work as an RA is so memorable. Additionally, getting to know all these unique individuals broadened my perspective, enriched my college experience and helped me acknowledge the strength of a diverse community.
Kind words that were used to describe me by my fellow RAs
I discovered another role in a community as I participated in several directed research groups (DRG) within the HCDE department. Last year, I was part of the HCDE Alternative Spring Break program, teaching and mentoring underrepresented students on how to program using Scratch. As a mentor, I helped students to explore the fun side of programming as well as discover the opportunities in STEM. After 10 weeks in preparation, I visited the beautiful Neah Bay and became immersed in their culture through learning the history of the Makah Indian tribes and living in the reservation that is far away from the cities. What is so memorable about this workshop was that it was also a learning experience for me. Not only did I learn about what makes this community so special, but also about my ability to make a positive change by helping students realize their capacity to create and achieve more using programming tools. Being part of this program was one of the most meaningful experiences I had that helped me learn about myself and what I can do.
Mentoring middle school students in a classroom
at Neah Bay
After this program, I wanted to participate in more projects that targeted empowering communities. I was selected to be part of the Making Core Memory project and the Atari Women project, which both focused on empowering women. The Making Core Memory project introduces students to the unheard stories of innovation, acknowledging women who were the core memory weavers and their contribution to the Apollo Space Mission. For the Atari Women DRG, we featured the community of women engineers that participated in Atari game development and their contribution to the video gaming industry. Participating in these projects helped me identify myself as a woman in engineering and recognize the community of women in tech. I was able to empathize with the struggles they’ve had, such as not being recognized and having others doubting the female capacity to create something brilliant within the technological realm. Learning about these women inspired me to be more confident in my work and enabled me to reflect on my experiences in becoming who I am today.
My illustrations for the Making Core Memory Project, featuring women who worked on weaving the core memory.
Ready For What's Next
Over my college years, I’ve grown from being just a participant in a community to becoming an active leader who facilitates and helps to empower a community to see its potential. I was challenged to recognize my own biases and assumptions and be intentional about encouraging diversity, promoting inclusiveness and thinking from multiple perspectives. My experiences in interacting with these communities also helped me to acquire important skills that prepare me for what I hope to do in the future. I look forward to opportunities in helping more local communities, learning about what makes them special and forming connections with them. Additionally, through participating in past projects, I was able to see the power of design and what I could do as an aspiring UX designer. With human-centered design methodologies in mind, I hope to design innovative, long-lasting solutions that are tailored to meet the needs of communities. I acknowledge that the change I’m creating might be small for now, but I will continue to learn, grow and challenge myself to become a better leader, designer and a complete, courageous human being. Having set a goal, I believe in my potential to make an impact to help improve the lives of others.